aka YA Literature

Monday, April 27, 2009

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors

Katrina gives some day-old pastries and coffee to a homeless guy asleep in the alley behind her grandmother's coffee shop. What she doesn't realize is that the homeless guy is actually (a) cute and (b) an angel. He's a messenger who must deliver a message to someone in her hometown. Because she did a completely unselfish thing for him, he must grant her her greatest desire. It would help is she knew what that is. Mixed in with all this, her grandmother's coffee house is in danger of being put out of business by the new, hip coffee house next door, and Katrina's best friend, Vincent, starts dating the too perky and perfect daughter of her grandmother's ruthless coffeehouse competitor.

This isn't going to win the Printz and I doubt it's going to be a best-seller, but it's cute and enjoyable. I liked the ending a lot more than I expected to. It's appropriate for both middle and high school. I plan to buy a copy for my library, and I think it will appeal to readers who liked The Opposite of Invisible or The Possibilities of Sainthood.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What We Want Publishers to Know

Unshleved has this pdf booklet for BEA about what librarians and booksellers want publishers to know. It's great! I agree with everything. I especially want to "amen" the stickers one and the one about a synopsis. I suspect the one about the dust jacket also relates to having a synopsis. Books without a synopsis will not check out, no matter how great the cover is (case in point: Madapple). I'd like to add these:

1. Put the volume number high on the spine so it won't be covered up by spine labels or other stickers we use. This is especially important for manga.
2. Make the spine appealing too. Like this.
3. If a book is in a series, make it clear what number that particular book is. Preferably on the cover but on the inside on a title or separate series page will also work. A list of all the books of the series in order would be appreciated.

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl doesn't come out until 2010, so I kind of hate to write about it now so far in advance. However, if I don't write about it now, I know I'll never do it. When I got the ARC from Little, Brown at TLA, the rep told me something like, "We're hoping this will appeal to Twilight fans." To be honest, that kind of turned me off of wanting to read it. Do you know how many books I went through trying to recreate my Twilight experience (at least from the first two books)? And now it seems every book is just trying to get Twilight fans by being derivative or getting a Stephenie Meyer endorsement. But the cover is great and the summary didn't sound too much like Twilight, so I gave it a chance. And I'm so glad I did because I really liked it.

Ethan Wate lives in the small, very Southern (definitely capital S "southern") town of Gatlin, South Carolina. He can't wait to leave. His mother died, his father is now a recluse confined to writing in his study all day in his pajamas, and the town is very insular, where everyone knows everyone else and doesn't want anyone to be different. The one person who is different is Old Man Ravenswood who owns the oldest plantation house in town and who never leaves his house. When his neice, Lena Duchannes, arrives in town, things start changing. And the people of Gatlin don't like change. Lena is pretty much the opposite of the very Southern and superficial girls who are popular cheerleaders at Gatlin HS. They resent her and mock her, and Ethan's defense of Lena only makes things worse. When the ring-leader of these girls, Emily, keeps pushing Lena one day in English class, the classroom window suddenly breaks. This is a pivotal moment when everyone at Gatlin decides Lena is not just different but dangerous, and by befriending her, Ethan is making a conscious decision to break with all of his other friends and neighbors in Gatlin (except his great best friend, Link). As Ethan spends more time with Lena, he comes to understand how and why the window broke, why Old Man Ravenswood is such a recluse, why Lena is marking her hand with numbers (counting down each day), how his housekeeper/caretaker is involved with Ravenswood, why the town librarian stays there when she could be in a bigger city, and many other historical secrets of the town that he never even suspected. Not to mention why he's been dreaming of Lena even before she arrived.

The setting was really well depicted and incorporated into the plot. Although I love my hip urban faery tales (Marr, Clare, etc.), I like this change of p(l)ace. The setting melds well with the mystical elements of the plot and makes it even more believable. It also makes this book different from all those urban faery tales, while at the same time, I think it will probably appeal to a lot of the same readers. There were quite a few characters, but they were all very well-developed. I didn't predict the end, but it seemed like an appropriate end, not contrived to be "something you didn't see coming." Naturally, a sequel appears imminent. The only aspects I didn't completely love were with some of the ending, but I will wait until it comes out to discuss that (if I can even remember by then). And the superficiality of the "popular girls" made for good conflict and humor, but they were definitely stereotypes and one-dimensional. They weren't the focus, though, so it's forgivable/understandable. I did love the depiction of their shirts (you'll understand when you read it).

I was intrigued by the title, but I have to say its meaning was nothing at all that I suspected. Now that I understand its meaning, I like the meaning but I am not completely sure how I feel about it for the title of this book. I also love the cover, but I had it on my cart of ARCs I've been sharing with students and no one took it the entire two weeks it was there. So what do I know?

* Margie looks like E. Lockhart to me in the photo on their website.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

YA Movie News

Vanessa Hudgens is going to be Lindy in the movie version of Alex Flinn's Beastly. (from Variety) Who would make a good Kyle? I could see Chance Crawford. I'm interested to see who they cast. It needs to be someone hot and preppy.

David Slade is going to produce Eclipse.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Importance of Hand-Selling Books

Mediabistro included this comment in a post today: "In the Age of Amazon.com and Internet shopping, the hand-sell seems like an antiquated skill." The post is about a contest and not really so much about how hand-selling is antiquated, but I wanted to post about how significant I've come to realize hand-selling is in my library. There are certainly some books that circulate well in my library without me doing a thing to promote them (ie. Twilight). However, besides these ridiculously popular series, you know what circulates well and what I buy multiple copies of? The books I've read and liked. Because those are the ones I recommend and booktalk. There are some books on the shelves with lots of circs and multiple copies. I bet the previous librarian loved those books and recommended them all the time. But now I haven't read them and I never direct anyone to them. They're never read. The books I have to buy more copies of are the ones I like. They're my go-to recommendations. (You like romance? Try Sarah Dessen.) And I am not good at booktalking. I don't think you have to be too great at hand-selling, though. I've found that most people will read books I recommend to them specifically (my avid readers) or point them to for specific tastes or interests. It just takes a, "I really love this book," or "Everyone who's read this has liked it."

Monday, April 20, 2009

This & That

How did I not know The Lovely Bones is being made into a movie? It has a great cast; I hope they don't butcher the plot.

Kathleen Newman-Bremang has a post on the MTV Movies Blog about "The Top 5 Teen Movies - Other Than Heathers - That Should Be Musicals." (1) Not too sure about being made into a musical, but I loved Heathers (and Christian Slater) when I was a child, so this is exciting news for me. I think it would be great to expose a new generation of teens to its fabulousness. (2) I love her suggestion for The Breakfast Club as a musical. I think it would be perfect. (3) Other teen movies or books you think would make great musicals? I'm going to think about this one.

Prom: Pro & Con

John Green wrote an article for the Washington Post called "Why We Should Get Rid of the Prom." Okay, before I get to discussing it, can I just say that I would be fascinated to know how the Washington Post, John Green, and "the prom" came together for an article. Kind of like, why is John Green giving dating advice on Seventeen.com?

Anyway, I agree with some of JG's points about the ridiculousness of prom. It's unnecessarily expensive. It brings all kinds of unnecessary drama with it (which I'm seeing lots of in the library right now). It puts pressure on teens to get dates and/or spend lots of money. Supposedly there is an expectation of having sex/losing your virginity on prom night, but I never personally experienced that as a teen or as a teacher observer/mentor. I also don't know that I know anyone who had a really good prom. Myself, I went with a friend from another school who wasn't allowed to leave his county to go to the after-prom party with me because while he was getting my corsage at the florist, two guys came over to buy pot from him and when he wasn't there, they let themselves in and set off his house alarm. The police came and found drug paraphernalia. Then he was smoking pot on the way to the prom and we didn't dance a single dance together.* All my girlfriends I went with ditched or were ditched by their dates by the time we got to the after-prom party at school. One of my college friends came home from prom to find her dog had ripped out all the stitches from her surgery and was dripping blood all over the house. She had to take her to the emergency vet clinic in her prom dress.

However, I think there is something to be said for prom. It's fun to get dressed up. Sure, you could do this for some other event of your own making, but parents are less likely to foot the (usually very expensive!) bill for it. Plus, there just aren't as many opportunities or places to go. (And in this economy, do you really want to be responsible for telling people to spend less? Think about the hotel workers, DJs, dress shops, hair salons, etc. that depend on prom revenue!) Prom also has a mythical quality to it. Whether good or bad, you always have your prom stories. I mean, that is one of my best high school stories now. The number of books related to prom can attest to this: Prom, Prom Nights From Hell, etc.

Seems to me you can always just not go to prom if you agree with John Green, or if your agreement with him outweighs the pros of prom.

* Postscript: Now we're friends on Facebook!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

I have been eagerly awaiting City of Glass. My bottom line is that it was what I expected, it was good but my least favorite of the series, and I thought it was a satisfying end to the trilogy. It took me a while to get into it, partly because I had to remember back to all the characters and their relationships. I had in my head all this time how much I couldn't wait to read this book, but once I started reading it, I realized I didn't even remember what happened at the end of the last book. I liked the setting in NYC better than Idris, and this seemed to be more of tying up loose ends than anything else. I was a little annoyed at Clarissa because she did seem to be acting foolishly at times in insisting on going to places and participating in things when she had no idea what she was doing. But I was satisfied at the end, and I had some laugh out loud moments. And I'm happy to hear that Clare might be writing more about Magnus Bane (love him!).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Matt,

This is what I'd like to tell Matt De La Peña:

Dear Matt,

I've booktalked Mexican Whiteboy in about 50 classes. In every single one, when I said the title of Mexican Whiteboy, there was a twitter of amusement, sometimes along with a "Hey, that's So-and-So!" or "Hey, that's me!" This tells me two things: (1) It's a great title. No other title I've booktalked elicits this kind of response. (2) They'd love to read a funny Mexican Whiteboy. Granted, you'd have to call it something else now, but there must be something left. I know you love the gut-wrenching, sad, emotional "highs" of tragic and depressing stories, but I think you have funny in you if you wanted to do it. Maybe something like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Or maybe something totally different. I'm just saying, I think you could do it well and I think teens would love it. I think you could give the masses what they want and something you'd want to give them too.

Second, it's not what the masses want necessarily, but it is what I'd like to read by you: a book with a female lead or near-lead. I really like your female characters so far, even though they've been secondary. They're interesting, fun, and sometimes kind of badass. They're familiar as real people but unique as YA lit characters. I could see you writing a really good alternate perspectives novel, alternating between the guy and the girl's perspectives. It doesn't even have to be a romance (indeed, I'm still reeling from Perfect Chemistry).

Thank you in advance for your consideration in these matters, as I'm sure this will be paramount in your mind as you decide what to write your novels about,

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena

Teens Miguel, Rondell (two L's), and Mong sneak out of the group home they've been court-assigned to. They steal $750 from the home and make their way to Mexico where they plan to become fishermen. The novel is mostly an account of their journey (literal and emotional). Mong has had a really hard life and is a bit crazy. Rondell is a kind of Lenny figure--he has his heart in the right place but is intellectually slow, physically large, and not completely in control of his substantial physicality. Miguel is the main character: half Mexican, half white, feeling guilty about what he did to end up in juvi, smart, a burgeoning reader, and struggling with his conscience.

I really liked it. I liked the friendship that develops between the three guys, particularly between Miguel and Rondell. I think what I liked most of all is that this novel is written in first-person and Miguel has a strong, engaging, and authentic voice. It was also very existential. Miguel tries to come to terms with what the point of his continued existence and actions are, especially since he has already stepped over the proverbial line of "bad" and "wrong" (not to mention illegal) and now can't ever really go back again. Once he has done x, what does it matter if he does y (or z or f or q...)?

"Nothing matters. Not when you break it all down like I been doing in my head all tonight. Trust me. Nothing. Not me. Not you. Not the guy in the liquor store with the bat. Not the Bible. Not the pretty girls. Not being the watcher-over of this park. Not The Catcher in the Rye. Not this damn book I'm writing.

Nothing, man.
It's all meaningless.

Love that part. The exisistential themes made me really appreciate the title as well. When I first heard the title, I didn't think much of it. To be honest, I thought it was kind of boring, especially compared to Mexican Whiteboy.* However, while it might not be the attention-grabber that MW is, it is a really great and fitting title. By the end of the book, I thought it is not only appropriate but it underscores the significance of the book, of what Miguel discovers. It's a title that you get more from at the end, and not just because you read the line that it came from in the text.

The one thing that was a little distracting for me is the journal format of the book. There are no chapters, just dated sections. This is fine except that most of it is written in past tense (as if it's a retelling of the story), but occasionally Miguel slips into present-tense, as if he's writing in his journal in real-time. As long as I thought of it all as a retelling, it was fine. One of my students who is reading this right now actually told me the journal style is what he really likes about it. He said he likes how you get a sense of how long things take and that you are "going along" with the characters.

I like the cover on this book better than BDL and MW. They were very artistic but not very attractive for teens.

* More on this in my next post.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

If you're a Sarah Dessen fan, you'll almost certainly like this book. If you're not . . . then you probably won't. It's very "Sarah Dessen." Sort of like how Jodi Picoult has different characters and plots and issues, but her books are unmistakably her and she does what she does well. In Along for the Ride, the female main character discovers new things about herself and confronts internal emotional issues, while the strong secondary character(s) does the same. It includes some romance (but nothing too sexually explicit!) and some very clear but not too heavy-handed metaphors.

Auden is the daughter of two (now divorced) academics: a mother who is a successful English literature professor and ardent feminsit and a father who is also an English professor but who once had a very successful novel years ago and is now trying to write another. Auden decides to spend the summer after her senior year with her father, her step-mother, and their new baby at their beach-front home. While there, she ends up liking her step-mother a lot more than she expected to (she isn't as dumb and ditzy as her mother would like to believe), and she realizes how selfish and self-absorbed her father is. Auden also realizes how much of a childhood she's missed out on by growing up with parents who expected her to act maturely. She makes friends with the girls at her job and likes a guy who works at the bike shop nearby. He's struggling with his own issues, of course. I won't tell you how it ends, but you can probably guess since it's a classic Sarah Dessen novel.

I'm a Sarah Dessen fan. Just Listen is my favorite SD novel and one of my all-time favorites. This didn't quite reach that status (I don't know if anyone will ever equal Mallory or Owen for me), but I did like it better than Lock & Key. One of the things Dessen usually does that I like is to give the male character a very concrete interest (ex. music, bikes) and use that to develop characterization and create metaphors for life lessons. The female main characters don't tend to have that as much, though. I wish they did. I guess the books focus on the internal development of the female leads, so maybe that explains why they seem to be the ones with the "issues" while the guys tend/seem to have things figured out more by the time they meet the girl. Lock & Key was a little different in this regard, but the other books seem to follow this pattern. I mean, don't get me wrong; I always like reading the books, but it just seems very familiar. Of course, there are a lot worse things in life and in reading than knowing what you're going to get and knowing you like it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Love v. Romance

I am in the midst of TLA and thought I'd post about one of the author sessions I saw. It was Margo Rabb, Cassandra Clare, Nancy Werlin, Justine Larbalestier, and Patrick Jones. Patrick Jones was moderating and trying to get some discussion of gender issues going. Somehow the issue of YA being devalued in comparison to adult lit was raised, and Nancy was commenting on how the same is done to romance books even though they are the largest percentage of book sales. Justine was then saying that she thinks all books are love stories. Whether or not that is true, I think a love story is not necessarily a romance. If you look at the definition from RWA, a "romance" makes a love story central to the plot and has an emotionally-satisfying/optimistic ending. Certainly not all books meet that definition. I'm bringing this up because of another tangent that followed closely on the heels of this discussion. The panelists went on to talk about how guys will read books not only with female main characters but also with romance. My personal take on this is that guys will indeed read books with love stories or romantic elements, but they must also include action (like the Uglies example that Justine gave or like Cassandra's Mortal Instruments series). If there is little action and/or a focus just on the emotional struggles and interior character angst, guys are not into it. "Boy meets girl" stories aren't very popular with guys at all.